Big Brands, Athletes and the Olympics: Social Media Is the Driving Force for London 2012

Socialympics is the buzz word for the London games, the first Olympics where social media will play a major role not only for fans but for big brands and athletes.  In Beijing in 2008, Twitter was young with 2 million users.  Facebook had a paltry 100 million compared to 900 million today.  

More than 4 billion people are expected to watch the London Olympics on TV.  An estimated one billion will be viewing events on tablets, smart phones and their computers and billions more will be engaging through social media.  

All this means that branding is changing, not just for the big sponsors like P&G, Coke, Visa and McDonalds, but for athletes as well.   

Ask Australian three time gold medalist Stephanie Rice (@itsstephrice), who a few weeks ago tweeted an Instagram picture of herself in a bikini she got as a birthday present from her fashion designer friend.  The twittershpere had a lot to say about the sexy suit, including someone who called for her to be dropped from the Olympic team.  The  story was reported worldwide online, on TV and in newspapers.  Rice does an awesome job on twitter and Instagram keeping her fans updated and already had 42,000 following her.  But that spiked by 16,000 followers in the week after the photo.

U.S. Olympic runner Nick Symmonds wanted to make a point about endorsements for athletes so he hit ebay in January and auctioned off space on his left bicep.  The highest bidder would get their Twitter handle tattooed temporarily on Symmonds’ arm for the 2012 track and field season and the London Olympics. Symmonds covers it with white tape when he runs.  Milwaukee ad agency Hanson Dodge thought “why not” and paid $11,000.   Creative thinking on both sides that brings branding and social media together.  Symmonds is now working for the agency.

Big brands are making their biggest push into social on a scale we’ve never seen before.  Like the Superbowl, you can see Olympic commercials/videos on You Tube or check them out here. But brands like Proctor & Gamble and Visa are in new territory.

P&G launched its “Thank You Mom” campaign which targets individual countries.  For example, if you live in Canada you’re automatically taken to a Canadian specific Facebook page,, and it has a website that gives you information on all the Canadian athletes P&G sponsors.  The same goes for the UK, where they are thanking “mum” at  Commercials and video highlight moms and their kids from different countries ending with the link to the corresponding Facebook page. 

Visa is using the new Facebook geolocation function to direct your country’s page. If you logged in to Visa’s Facebook page in Canada earlier this week the top post was about the Canadian men’s para-olympic basketball team.  In the U.S., there was a poll about how many medals Michael Phelps would win.   (I wasn’t able to see any page outside of Canada so thanks to SMC Detroit’s Mike McClure for helping me pin this down.). There’s also a Facebook app where you can produce your own cheer or you can figure out your degrees of separation from athletes.

NBC, which paid $1.8 billion for the broadcast rights is teaming up with Facebook to link the social network to the TV broadcast.  It’s quite a change from the winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 when NBC seemed terrified that social would infringe on its coverage.

It’s going to be really interesting to watch what companies produce as the branding ramps up leading into and during the London games.

Oh, and if you’re not an official sponsor in U.K., watch out for the brand police.  Three hundred enforcement officers hit the streets in England over the next couple of days to stop illegal use of the Olympic brand.